BLOG

Decolonized, Ep. 1: The First Black Resort

thumbnail_image1.png

This series is for the small town educators.

This series is for the educators in towns with administrators whose minds have yet to expand.

This series is for the educators who don’t see themselves as educators, despite illuminating scholars in after-school programs, bodega conversations, tours of sacred spaces, and living room floors.

This series is for the educator who nods and smiles when the central text list is released at the beginning of the school year and then rebels at the start of the school year.

This series is for the educator who speaks up at the professional development.

This series is for the momma educator who everyone came to prior to the professional development to lament about their dreams and how they came to teach Black and Brown scholars about their reflections.

This series is for the momma educator who ain’t a momma but still a momma because she speaks up for you.

This series is for the poppa educator who does the same.

This series is for them. They. Non-binary educators who scholars trust with their whole selves, so they scour shelves, archives, and more to craft mirrors.

This series is for all y’all.

This series is for you.

Decolonize: to withdraw from a colony, to stand independently.

To withdraw from colonization: word to Shuri.

To withdraw from dominant and mainstream conditioning.

We are conditioned. Anecdotes, that carry slivers of truth, sometimes none at all, make their way into our history books as fact. They will have you believing that Harriet Tubman was older and feeble when her defiance began, instead of the thirteen year old that stood her ground while witnessing an enslaved boy be punished in a store. They will have you believing that Rosa was older and tired, as if her grandfather wasn’t an activist and her strategy wasn’t implemented before. They will tell you that Martin Luther King Jr. was a peaceful and quiet man, Malcolm X was reckless, and Medgar was in between.

They will only give you these names and they will stuff the others in notations, one-offs, museum projector slides, and purgatory.

And if you never knew it existed, if you didn’t know your struggle was a reoccurring one, if you thought it was the first time…does it resound?


I’m trying to recollect where it started.

The crevices of my mother’s arms as she read me Langston Hughes.

My father’s obsession with autobiographies and poetry collections.

The trips to our native island of Jamaica where the questions left my pre-teen lips a mile a minute.

The impromptu history trips with my grandmother’s church.

Attending an HBCU where cotton grew on campus.

I don’t know the exact moment where constructs jumped from the page and I started to pull them apart. I’d walked past antiquated homes and consider their origins. Consideration was not enough. Soon I found myself in digital and physical archives, the Internet, and mapping the ancestries of the people who’d lived there. While doing this research, I’d research the demographics of the neighborhood at the time: Where were the indigenous and PoC at this time? Who had access to this space? Do the archives truly reflect the location? Who wrote this? What was their intention? What’s been the impact?

These critical lenses started while I was in middle school. Frustrated with educators who were obsessed with lecture and encouraged no critical discourse, I pushed back and I pushed hard. Somewhere along the lines, the decolonization began. I became a hoodstorian. While most of the texts implored me to head to the south to unearth all that’s been hidden, I was also adamant about the cities I’d grown up in or around: Bedstuy, Jamaica, Uniondale, Hempstead, Roosevelt, Harlem, Bridgeport, Newark, and more.

We were constantly learning about the progression of our state and surrounding entities, but we rarely learned of its flaws. We rarely learned about the Black and Indigenous History of these spaces. If we did, the lesson was short and rushed.

A few years into teaching, these notions resurfaced. A middle school scholar said, “Why don’t we ever learn about Brooklyn?”

He was right. All of our history curriculum was focused on Ancient Civilizations (MOSTLY GREECE & ROME), the Civil War (ABOUT SLAVERY), The Great Depression, the World Wars, and two blips of The Harlem Renaissance and The Civil Rights Movement.

We never discussed what was happening in our own backyard. Neighborhood field trips often aligned with mandated curriculum and scholars would find themselves wandering about museums looking at ancient statues and scientific discoveries, but rarely people that looked like them.

I started modifying the curriculum, almost immediately after this question. What was in our backyard? Weeksville? Jackie Robinson? Brooklyn Renaissance? The Spike Lee Era? Harlem? The Prominent Black Town In Central Park? The Colored Orphan Asylum? Elizabeth Gloucester? The Weeksville Picnic turned Labor Day Parade? I had so many stories to share.

Here is one of them….


1359821560-peg_leg_bates.jpg


Because I am a collector of narratives, particularly ones of those that are underrepresented, many people bring the stories to me.

My homegirl Tenyse calls at 6 am, on a Tuesday. It’s this weird thing we do, trying to see who can wake who up first. She sounds groggy but sad, “My mom is asking you to come upstate with us. She wants you to document something important to our family.”

This collection isn’t something I broadcast (until now), but if you’re around me for more than 10 minutes I’ll start spinning a tale of something that happened in the very place we’re standing in based on my research of the concrete.

Only two weeks after my friend called, I ended up in the mountains of upstate New York with landmark and cemetery soil in the ridges of my favorite boots.

When I am on the hunt for a story, weird things happen. I can prepare myself for the day and I’ll still come undone. I’d left the house with a fully powered extra charger and notes for one story. Instead, I collected numerous stories and my phone died right before meeting with an elder. Strange coincidences happened before and after our visit.

It’s almost like the ghosts/memories keep calling me back to it. Someone wants me to tell this story. The day’s and coming weeks events made it so.

We spent a few hours listening to throwbacks and talking about our days working at an all-boys school before we finally pulled up to the most unique acre(s) of land I’ve ever explored. We ended up on a winding road and suddenly, as we turned left, we were in front of it. Upstate New York’s first Black resort.

Nope. Scratch that.

After several days of research, it WAS the first Black resort in the United States. Although the Green Book, known for identifying safe spaces for Black people throughout the country, exemplifies many black resort towns and beach enclaves, this resort/country club was the first of its kind.

Sixty-eight years ago, the famous tap dancer Clayton Bates opened up the resort with four rooms in this small Ulster County community a two-hour drive from New York City. By 1985, he had 110+ rooms, a mix of bungalows, trailers and motel units. Amenities included but were not limited to picnic grounds, barbecue pits, biking, hiking, catered foods, performances, ping pong, basketball, church services.

Screen Shot 2019-04-30 at 11.53.44 PM.png

But that’s not the most interesting part..

The interesting part is the story of its owner. Clayton Bates was known as “Peg Leg Bates.” He was one of the most incredible tap dancers in the world and he did it all with one leg. Peg Leg Bates was from Fountain Inn, South Carolina. He begun dancing at the age of five in barbershops and anywhere he had an audience.

At the age of 12, after only three days working, he was in a cotton gin accident that took one of his legs. In a PBS documentary about his life, he stated, “To give you an idea, of what a Black person was thought of at that time, they didn’t think enough of me to send me to the hospital. My leg was cut off on my mother’s kitchen table.”

When Peg Leg Bates’ uncle returned form WWI to find his nephew disabled, he fashioned him his first wooden leg. It was with this leg, that he would beat the odds. Peg Leg Bates spent the next few decades amazing crowds throughout Broadway, The Harlem Renaissance, and the Ed Sullivan show twenty-two times.

However, I’m sure he performed many more times at his own resort in a cabin that was longer than the rest, green and tan unlike the other white structures, and the first one that seemed to greet you.

thumbnail_IMG_6695.jpg

I didn’t know this from my research.

I knew this because of a feeling. Remember, earlier on, when I said that I paused in front of antiquated homes and abandoned spaces? It wasn’t necessarily because of their look. It was because of an energy that I seemed to crawl under my skin as I walked past these places. I would feel it right before turning to look at the space and when I finally set my eyes on it, an imaginary story would make its way into my mind.

This time, I heard, “This is where the entertainment happened.”

My friend and her mom echoed these thoughts, shortly after, telling me that many Black Harlem Renaissance greats, actors, actresses, musicians, writers, doctors, engineers, lawyers, and more made their way up to “Peg Leg Bates’ place.”


To understand the impact of this space, you need to bring to mind the atmosphere for Black people in the United States in the 1950s. It was the Civil Rights era and prior to the opening of Peg Leg Bates’ Country Club/Resort there’d been very few spaces where Blacks could room or travel to, in upstate New York.

To give you some perspective, I have a friend who’s incarcerated in a prison twenty minutes away. We’d lost touch because he transitioned to this facility while I was in the process of moving. When we reconnected, here’s what he had to say:

“My correctional facility is in a small town that was known for two things: Ku Klux Klan presence and farming. The farming community became obsolete with larger farms and corporations that opened up in nearby counties, but they were blessed with a correctional facility. All of those Klan members and their descendants became correctional officers. 95% of the population here are Black and Latinx. When we got on this call, you asked “How are you?”

How am I? That’s how I am.”

That’s right. Clayton “Peg Leg” Bates took his retirement funds, defied his surroundings, and made the decision to open up a refuge for our hard work in the midst of supremacist-filled towns.


Screen Shot 2019-06-10 at 1.04.22 PM.png

Nothing could hold us back, not even the no-trespassing signs.

We explored the property, eyeing each cabin and pondered what took place in each room. There were small streams in corners of the property, wooden bridges that led you from the road to the bungalows, hills in the distance, and foliage everywhere.

We filled the hollowness of the abandoned grounds with memories, laughter, and banter about all of the fervor the guests must’ve felt upon arrival. We walked to the road, in efforts to get back home before it was dark, my friend’s mother leading the way.

Before we left, we read the words on a sign on the right side of the property. It said, “Rocky Hill Farm: Breaking Ground 2020.”

A sadness took over our adventure. My friend and her mother were not aware the property had been sold and were equally distraught that it would be destroyed.


Perhaps the ghosts know that I’m defiant.

Perhaps they know that I let nothing get in the way of my purpose.

I spent the next few weeks, going through my notes, reading every article about the resort and Peg Leg Bates’ Country Club that I could. I found that he’d been honored with a statue in his birthplace, Fountain, South Carolina. I discovered that someone wrote a children’s book about him. I found out he’d been honored at Fashion Institute of Technology.

1348113868_b6ae2127d2_b.jpg


However, I fell short on narratives. Where were the people that spent their time at the resort? Where was his family? Why didn’t they have ownership of the place?

While taking a break from my research one evening, I sat with a friend’s grandmother and we talked for hours. She talked about girls trips she took in the 50s and how she loved nature, “Ain’t nothing like a forest breeze.” We’d spent time talking about politics and her favorite shows and her statement brought me back to the resort.

I asked her, “Have you ever heard of Peg Leg Bates’ Country Club?”

She said, “Girl! That’s a throwback. Of course! He was FINE, too!”

A few days later, I had a phone conversation with my friend that is incarcerated close to the resort. I told him what I was working on. He said, “I know that spot. There’s a guy in here that talks about it all the time. He’s been in here since it was jumping.”

Residents of upstate New York, that they’d once lived close to, started calling my friend and her mother, to catch up. Considering the adventure was top of mind, they asked about their memories of the resort.

They received incredible responses:

“I used to sing there.”

“I have pictures there.”

“That was my spot!”

“He left a LEGACY.”

I relayed the project to my father and he recalled a summer camp, for Caribbean kids, in a old resort filled with bungalows. He said he’d call an old friend to find out if it was one and the same.

It was.

The stories were making their way to us.


How do we save the first Black resort?

In Peg Leg Bates’ will, he requested that if the resort was ever sold that it was sold to a Black owner. This was honored when it was sold to Doreen Richardson. She restored the space, brought kids up for the summer from the city, and had plans to bring it back to life.

In 2012, Doreen died while checking property damage at the resort during Hurricane Sandy. Doreen was close with my homegirl’s mom. They’d spent some summers at the resort.

Screen Shot 2019-06-20 at 1.55.05 AM.png


The state took over the property after Doreen’s death and the property was sold to Rocky Hill Farm, despite Doreen’s wishes. As we left the premises, the day of our exploration, we all agreed that this space should be one of commemoration, a space for youth to thrive, and people to remember Clayton “Peg Leg” Bates’ legacy. We also agreed that it should be remembered as a space of activism and progress.


The erasure of Black, Brown, and Indigenous History, especially in America, is not an anomaly.

Historic houses have been torched or demolished.

We’ve built cities atop sacred Indigenous burial sites.

We’ve unearthed Black bodies to gentrify neighborhoods.

This is all I could think of, as we drove off of the premises.

Before we made our way to the highway, my friend’s mother made one more stop. We pulled into a cemetery where Peg Leg Bates and his wife, Alice, are buried.

Screen Shot 2019-06-20 at 1.52.59 AM.png


I got out of the car and kneeled down, near his headstone. It was etched with their likeness and an image of the communal space where dinner, entertainment, and a casino were housed.

I decided right there and then, as an instructional designer and self-proclaimed hood historian, to inform our next generation about all of the stories they’ve tried to eradicate.

I made that pledge to Mr. Bates in person.

One narrative at a time.

One lesson at a time.

One scholar at a time.


If you’d like to listen to the Decolonized podcast, you can listen at Spotify or Anchor.

FICTION: Soon Come: Season 1, Episode 2

Read episode 1 of "Soon Come."

Read episode 1 of "Soon Come."

SADIE

Aminah showed up just in time for the founder's presentation. 

She ran in, slinking down in the darkness of the room, like we couldn't see her huge curly fro and six foot frame via the illumination of the PowerPoint slide. Aminah was always late, but you have to meet your friends where they are--especially your best friends. 

She plopped down in the empty chair, next to me, and adjusted one of precious Louis Vutton bags in her lap, "What did I miss?"

I smiled, "Hello to you too, Dolly."

Dolly was my nickname for Aminah. It was something I made up for her during our freshman year at Hampton University. We were roommates and I knew she was a New Yorker the moment I saw how many white Air Force Ones and Yankee fitted hats left her suitcase. She wore the same thing everyday and I used to joke that she got all “dolled up” to see me. She was Brownsville bred, about her books, and captain of the university basketball team. She had a phase where she would buy the same exact outfits as me, when she was trying to find her style, but that all changed our junior year. The nickname was also ironic because she eventually became flyer than our whole crew. 

She giggled, interrupting the founder, "Answer my question. What did I miss, girl?!"

I hushed her and urged her to listen to the speaker. 

The speaker continued, "Welcome to Brown Entrepreneurs' Annual Pitch Competition. Today, we have six startup founders, both non-profit and for-profit, competing for $10,000 to fund their endeavor. They'll come up and do their one-minute pitch, in front of our esteemed judges and at the end we'll announce 3 winners. Only one winner will receive our $10,000 cash prize but the other 2 winners will receive an office space and a 3-month incubator membership, from one of our judges. How does that sound?"

The audience applauded. The judges were already seated, front row center. As they were introduced, I picked up that one owned a consulting firm, another created a tech app I'd never heard of, and the last one was a philanthropist. He wore such a proud smile when they called his name and I surmised that he funded the competition. They were all successful in their own right, but they were also all men. 

0.2% of venture capitalist funds go to women of color. 13% of venture capitalist funds go to people of color. After hearing a barrage of "nos" in male dominated spaces, I still pushed on. This didn't stop the numbers from replaying in my mind, like a broken record. It didn't negate the imposter syndrome that I felt when standing in a room that applauded me for being a black woman that was smart enough to figure out how to start a business. Revolutionary. 

Aminah and I both gave each other a look, she whispered, "You got this girl." 

I touched her shoulder to let her know I appreciated her sentiment. I could not speak, all of my words were jumbled in my mind--rehearsing what I was going to say... 

....culturally relevant 

....to the children we serve

...our neighborhoods are


LUCEA

FORT GREENE, 1985

"Our neighborhoods are not your commodity. We are more than a pitstop to BAM for their monthly specials, a foray into brown town for dive bars and block parties. There are people that have lived and loved here for decades. You don't just get to come in here and make decisions for us." 

Lucea was pissed. She was standing in the middle of a town hall that was clearly a takeover instead of a forum. The community convened in the lunchroom of Brooklyn Technical High School. The large cathedral style windows brought in the blazing summer sun. The heat was unbearable but almost one hundred people sat still, sweating in folding chairs, waiting to hear the fate of their neighborhood. The panel, filled with councilmen and government contractors, advertised the town hall as a safe space to discuss the "cultural revolution" that was taking place. Instead, they read a long list of structures, changes, and zone shifts that were already scheduled or underway.

A councilman on the panel yelled across the room, "Attorney Brown, please have a seat! There will be a section for comments and questions at the end of this meeting."

Lucea couldn't take it anymore. She didn't give two damns about her Juris Doctor, the respectability politics emanating from the sell out brothas that grew up here, or being embarrassed, "You're just going to let the wealthy and the white come up in here and..."

"This is an integrated community, Attorney Brown. You live here and so do some of your white colleagues," he interrupted. 

Lucea knew that no matter what she said it wouldn't change a thing. “Integration” felt like invisible barbed wire, watching from the outside while generations were being pushed away from the concrete they sprouted from. She knew what it was like to want to buy homes and stores in the neighborhood, help her neighbors pay their rising rents, and designate gardens and parks for children to play. She knew possibility.

The reality was different.

The rest of the meeting felt like a lecture. The panel continued to list all of the “prospective” construction and businesses that were on the way. She knew nothing about this was “in the works.” It was already decided. When they opened the floor for questions, Lucea watched the community line up on front of the microphone to ask things that she knew would go unanswered.

Dutchess, a stylist that owned a natural hair salon on Fulton, spoke first. She was a longstanding resident that held all sorts of events in her shop, the mat that she swept hair from every evening served as a runway and red carpet for many.

“My landlord keeps dodging the question about what is going to happen to our building. First we were told that the rent would slightly increase, now they’ve started construction on some of the empty apartments above us. Those enhancements don’t look like a slight increase! I don’t even see him anymore. Are we becoming a co-op?”

Mr. James, the alderman answered, “What building are you in Dutchess?”

Dutchess sucked her teeth, “You know damn well what building I’m in Tiny! Stop playing these games!”

Alderman James grew up in Fort Greene. Before he left for Penn State and secured his journey to politics, he was known for his 4’9 frame that he didn’t grow out of until after college. Now, he stood at 5’2 and despite his new title, the neighborhood refused to let his childhood nickname go.

Mr. James pulled up to his full height and in a booming voice continued, “Dutchess, we can have a private conversation after this meeting.”

Dutchess stormed back to her seat before he could finish.

Lucea was tired of begging the gatekeepers of their community to see them as people, instead of obstacles. She knew that as an attorney, she didn’t have real power unless she became one of them.

She walked out of the sweltering school building and down the block towards the park in search of shade. She took in the houses and pondered their origins. Almost a decade before this, the neighborhood was declared a historic district after an architect bought deserted buildings and started to restore them.

Lucea sighed and ran her hands along the sankofa hearts of the brownstone gates. Fort Greene was historic, long before the proclamation that it was. Skilled Black workers, mostly shipbuilders, in the 1840s established most of the land. The Great Depression carved its homes into boardinghouses and a threat that the Brooklyn-Queens Expressway would be built right in the middle of it scared homeowners away. All of the instances seemed coincidental, but anyone who followed the narrative closely would start to see intention and erasure. Lucea’s family had been in Brooklyn for generations and it seemed like the same narrative furthered every decade.

She was tired.

The community garden on the end of the block was closed but had benches around it. She decided to take a seat as she plotted her next move. One, figure out what she was going to eat for lunch. Two, take Brooklyn back.

As she settled into the space, flowers crowning the garden gate above her head, she watched a family pack their things for the beach. The father carried a cooler, while his children pushed their plastic buckets and tools into the car. Mom was already in the car, fanning at herself with a newspaper. They were toting bags from the basement of a house that had a “for sale” sign. Lucea thought of the joy that comes with leaving the reality of their circumstance, even if only for a day, and she smiled.

With this thought, she felt someone sit on the opposite side of the bench. She rolled her eyes and continued looking at the family preparing for departure, annoyed that there were three open benches nearby.

The person next to her spoke, “I didn’t know Brooklyn was this beautiful.”

“How could anyone not know that?”

Lucea finally looked over and took in the chocolate man wearing all white linen, daring to take a seat where he might soil his debonair. His arm was near a flowerpot and his elbow seemed to blend with the soil. He smiled something serious and extended his hand, “I’m not from around here. I’m in town for the Block party.”

“One of Spike’s?”

“Yeah. I’m from the DMV.”

“Like the Department of Motor Vehicles?”

He laughed, “Nah. It means D.C., Maryland, and Virginia.”

Lucea was embarrassed, “Oh.”

The stranger continued, “It’s cool. Mostly locals know this. I’m going to guess that Brooklyn belongs to you?”

“In more ways than one.”

“Nice. I’m here for a week. I have a feature at The Moon later this week, but before and after I’m free.”

Lucea was intrigued, “Free for what?”

“Anything you’re up for.”

His voice was like silk, smoother than his attire. It sent non-existent chills in the dead of the summer blaze. Lucea knew he was all game but needed a refuge from her anxiety. She finally noticed a large rectangular instrument case next to his loafer covered feet and she convinced herself that she wanted to know all of its contents.

She stood up, “Well, I’m up for a walk.”


SADIE

PRESENT DAY

My mother was just sitting on my sofa when I got home. She had this habit of using her emergency-only key for everything but. I was slightly startled by her presence, not because she was there unexpectedly but because of the way she had her hands folded across her knees. She had something to say.

“So, did you win?”

“How do you even…”

“It came across my desk a few weeks ago. They wanted me to judge but I had to recuse myself once I saw that you were one of the finalists.”

“Of course. No, I didn’t win. I received an honorable mention.”

“How much?”

“I got a free office and…”

“Is that free office going to pay for the rent you owe your uncle?”

“Ma, come on. I’m trying to get Cultured Dreams off of…”

“It’s been on the ground for three years, Sadie. Perhaps it’s time for you to get a real job. I’ve arranged for you to talk to Melvin Canters, over at…”

“Pervy Melv?!”

“What? Why are you calling him that?”

“Ma, this man literally looks at every woman’s chest he speaks to at all of your campaign events.”

“I have never seen that man do that.”

My mother was now standing and pacing my living room. I watched her as she twiddled her fingers. She was gearing up to give me an order and I was preparing myself to tell her no.

“Melvin has twenty-seven years of experience in the non-profit world! He can assist you with this thing you’re trying to do, while you help him with the degree I paid so much for. You were so adamant about Hampton, but if you’d gone to Harvard you would’ve been…”

“Culturally suppressed and isolated…”

“Oh, like me?" Contrary to popular belief, I know who I am. I was named after…”

I finished her sentence for her, “Lucea, the parish of your people.”

She stopped pacing and stared at me, “Don’t mock me girl.”

This was the problem. My mother still saw me as a child. At thirty years of age, she was still trying to control every aspect of my life. She didn’t want me to have to struggle through the things she did. I knew that part was coming too.

She sat back down, beside me, “Your father caught me when I was at the height of my career. It was right around the time where the fight got harder and the nights got lonely. I want more than that for you.”

“Mom, your life is great. You’re a successful senator and I turned out just fine. Without that blip, I wouldn’t be here…”

She stared at me blankly and it terrified me. I didn’t know if her look meant that I didn’t turn out fine or if she regretted me being here. I didn’t want to know.

I continued, “Cultured Dreams has a place to start the work! Let’s celebrate no more wifi-hustle!”

My mother grabbed her bag and said, “Sounds like dinner to me. I’m hungry. Let’s go.”

Only food could motivate my mother to exit a debate. I was thankful for this fact.


DRU

PRESENT DAY

Fact: Dru Savoy worked for a school with a liberal arts mission that campaigned for teaching for to whole child.

Lie: Dru Savoy was content with being a mental health provider in an institution that thrived on compliance despite the detriment of its scholars.

Fact: 12 pm is Dru’s scheduled lunch time.

Lie: Dru takes lunch at 12 pm.

Stan, Dru’s favorite student despite knowing he shouldn’t say/think that, was livid with his math teacher.

“All I said was okay! He kicked me out of the classroom for saying okay!”

Dru leaned in, “Is that ALL you said, Stan?”

“Well, it was before he got smart with me! He said that okay wasn’t a word.”

”And then what did you do?”

”I left the room to go oand get the English dictionary in Ms. Baldwin’s room. I needed to show him that ‘okay’ is in fact—a word.”

Dru was laughing on the inside but kept his composure, “Were you allowed to leave the room, Stan?”

”Is he alllowed to spread falsehoods?”

”No, but…”

”Are we not even?”

Just as Dru began to respond, he saw the woman from his carpool walk past his office. His colleague sat in the room and he motioned to her, “Can you sit with Stan for a second? I need to check something.”

She nodded. Dru rushed out of the room and made his way in the woman’s direction. He found her at the end of the hall, preparing to descend the steps, “Sadie, right?”

Sadie turned around suddenly to see her newfound friend from a shared ride, “Yeah. Dru, right? What are you doing here?”

”I work here. I should be asking you that.”

”I met with the afterschool director about a program I’m working on. Wow, small world. Good to see you.”

Dru knew he had to make a move before it was too late. Sadie had a vibe that peaked his interest.

”I could walk you…”

A voice interrupted him, “Before or after we finish our meeting, Mr. S?”

It was Stan. He’d found his way down the hall.

Dru smiled nervously at Sadie and then spoke to Stan, “Right after! Okay?”

Stan smirked, “See? It IS a word.”





 

 

"See You Yesterday" is a Masterclass On Representation

via Tribeca Film Institute

via Tribeca Film Institute

It’s 11:06 pm and the first night that I forget to turn on my do-not-disturb feature.

A text message slips through.

It’s Tammy. She’s a younger first cousin that knows more about me than I would like anyone to know. She’s seen all of me: Brooklyn, barefoot, loud-mouthed, nerdy, and bossy me. She checks on me after brain surgery and breakups.

She writes, “Watch ‘See You Yesterday’ on Netflix.”

She’s talking about the new Netflix film by Stefon Bristol, Spike Lee, and Fredrica Bailey.

I laugh and tell her, “I’ve been on that!”

Suddenly, my eyes are filled with tears.

I’m laughing and crying all at once. My boyfriend watches this unfold and expresses concern, “Are you okay, babe?”

I turn to him, “Remember when I said that ‘See You Yesterday’ was the movie that Tammy needed?”

He nods.

“She’s watching it right now. She thinks she should put me on to it, because it’s afrofuturism and Brooklyn. That’s all me. But I wanted to put her on, because I see so much of her in this film.”

Bae smiles, “You should tell her that.”

I did.

IMG_4764.jpg

Tammy is in her late 20s, now. She’s always been obsessed with Biology and fashion, acting out the accents of our neighbor’s home islands, and Chipotle. Our parents were not the generation of intersections. They often drove home the idea that we could only follow one path when it came to our identities. I watched Tammy try to box herself in.

“I can style my friends on the weekends and then take AP Bio.”

“I can be a doctor and then own a boutique on the side.”

“I can open up a swimsuit line and use what I know about anatomy to make the swimsuits accessible.”

As she got older, her dreams started to meld. She is still piecing it together bit by bit, and I will fuel her imagination as often as I can, but I often wonder about our trajectory and how representation affects it. I watched my younger cousins and eventually my students struggle with initial interests because they’d never seen it or someone told them that their possible was impossible.

I’d asked them why they’d pause or dismiss a spark I’d see fill their eyes and they’d say, “People…children…folx…like me CAN’T do ______________.”

I had the privilege of growing up with parents that, despite their aligned interest in me becoming a doctor/lawyer/engineer, supported anything that I took interest in. They’d find a story, with a Black or Brown individual, and sit me in front of it. They’d push me to take in the narrative and assess whether I could truly see myself in that person’s shoes.

I mirrored their actions with my cousins and God-siblings, when I started a mentoring group at age 13. I took them to museums, parks, and plays. When my mother asked me why I wanted to do this, I said, “I want them to experience the things you show me.” I mirrored this with my friends as we navigated life and the real world. My living room sofa became the epicenter of our stalled aspirations.

I would plaster large post-its on my wall, grab a marker, and say, “Okay. Let’s plan it. Right now.”

They’d look at me stunned, “Now?”

Now.

I’m intentional about representation and nurturing reflections, as I educate our future generations, penning mirrors into the instructional material, creating connections between current events and the content, and using my own story as an artifact.

CJ + Sebastian’s Lab, See You Yesterday

CJ + Sebastian’s Lab, See You Yesterday


“See You Yesterday” is a mentoring session, a couch conversation, and a culturally relevant lesson all in one. While some may deem some of its themes inappropriate for younger scholars, the entire movie is filled with Easter eggs and cinematic Black magic.

The movie protagonists, Sebastian (Dante Crichlow) and C.J. (Eden Duncan-Smith), are prodigies that innovate make-shift time machines in efforts to save C.J’s brother Calvin (Astro) from police brutality.

In the first few scenes, it pays homage to some of our (Gen X,Y,Z and millennial) first glimpses of science fiction. I wonder what percentage of us pretended we were on hover-boards and yelled “Great Scott” with our legs criss-crossed on plastic covered furniture, while watching “Back to the Future.” I know that I wondered why Kunta was wearing a visor the first time I saw him in Star Trek.

Michael J. Fox reads the late, great Octavia Butler’s “Kindred", a phenomenal science fiction author who only made it onto the sci-fi shelves within the last decade, while the protagonists partake in Stephen Hawking’s “A Brief History of Time” and “Black,” a highly acclaimed graphic novel about Blacks having superpowers.

The backdrop is Bronx High School of Science, a specialized magnet school that requires the Specialized High School Admissions Test, an academic space with only 2% Black scholars and 5% LatinX scholars.  The school is adorned in possibility: blueprints, equations, a robotics lab and scholars talking casually talking about MIT and Morehouse. On the website, they also note that they have an onsite Holocaust museum.

After the first scene, scholars are seen emerging from the train in Flatbush Brooklyn, where they reside, and immediately it makes you wonder: What’s that commute like? Why do they have to travel almost an hour and a half for school? Do schools like BX Science not exist, where they live?


Flatbush, the one my grandmother has resided in for over fifty years, is vibrant in all its Caribbean splendor: vendors, mom and pop shops, bodegas, Korean markets, braiding salons, and images that remind me of Crooklyn all grown up. We are reminded of Brooklyn’s staples, through Calvin’s Dallas BBQs attire. We spent many graduations, birthdays, and more, wiping sticky sauce from our fingers and waiting excitedly for oversized drinks. Ring the Alarm by Tenor Saw, Buddy’s “Hey Up There,” and the sounds of steel pan that gentrifiers have tried to eradicate, dominate transitional scenes, bridging the multilingualism and multigenerational population of Black and Brown Brooklyn. We are brought home via a barbecue scene featuring Dominoes next to Red Stripe beers, Spelman alumna shirts with Jamaican Creole cusswords that my momma would kill me for writing in this article, and afrobeats like Olatunji’s “Oh Yay.”

Bristol, Lee, and Bailey show us the dark days of Brooklyn too: knowledge of cemetery plots like the back of our hands, harassment by police officers, mental health issues, impromptu funerals, and sometimes our inability to see that all of our children are scholars and prodigies.

We were innovators, although it was scarcely recognized. It was difficult for us to imagine the ease that Harriet the Spy had navigating her neighborhood, a high tech laboratory like Dexter, or a mechanical sofa like the one in Arnold’s boarding house, but we were luminaries.

Tammy and I, alongside many of the people we grew up with, can see ourselves in Sebastian and C.J. because we were also scientists.


Nipsey Hussle with the computer he built, at age twelve.

Nipsey Hussle with the computer he built, at age twelve.

“The lab” isn’t just a colloquialism for the basement and closet studios we created in our parent’s abode. We actually had labs. We were masters of turning mattresses and egg cartons into soundproof booths, connecting particle boards to chunky computers, hanging microphones from the tiles in the ceiling, finessing Cool Edit Pro and Fruity Loops. (See Nipsey Hussle’s first computer.)

My cousins, interested in the culinary and chemicals, made gourmet meals from bodega fixings. The same cousins, when we were curious dug their hands into the soil and plants in the backyard. They wanted to know how different entities reacted when they were mixed together; they dropped honeysuckle drippings onto their tongues. We stirred Horlicks and Milo, before bed, practicing for a future chemistry class. We inquired why the mix lumped at the bottom and sometimes grandma told us to “go to yuh bed.”

Sometimes the lab was a notebook or a wall filled with drawings of potential outfits, anime, comic strips, buildings, and portraits. We were Kehinde and Kara, our ideas turned lead silhouettes and vines with each stroke.

We curled into corners, invisible walls forming around us despite the family computer being in the living room, and coded our Myspace, Blackplanet, and Neopets pages to perfection.

We joined mas camps during spring and summer, waving our parents’ flags to and fro, yelling our nation’s hymns and movements. We curled our arms towards the sun to hit the right part of the pan and adjusted our costumes, so we could flail our bodies to spread color and joy.

Kiddie Caribbean Labor Day Parade

Kiddie Caribbean Labor Day Parade


We were writers, with makeshift offices, under covers and in spare rooms, writing in our Live Journal and Xanga.

We were and are so many things. We were scientists, like the Black kids of “See You Yesterday", with or without a garage, with or without a “Come inside/downstairs!” resounding through the home, with or without realizing our potential. 

It is one thing to see your neighborhood as the backdrop for a post apocalyptic zombie takeover, your community shown as the shady part of town, or to catch a hue similar to yours doing or saying something that might relate to you. It is something else entirely to witness your exact world, splayed across a screen, beckoning eyes from all over the world to embrace your intersectionality, your struggles, your triumph, and your pain.

Master educators are ones who are able to turn their palms and instruction into mirrors, they bounce prisms of our identity across flat surfaces, they show us how our small sliver of reality is connected to the soil, statues, serenity or lack thereof.

I grew up with C.J., Sebastian, and Calvin. They played softball with us in the park, sat on the steps until the street lights came on, grabbed Taste The Tropics ice cream and jerk anything from Lawton’s, and played manhunt when we were supposed to be inside. When we were finally nudged through the doors of our homes, I watched the Sebastians, C.J.s, and Calvins place radios on their dressers, draw on the backyard steps, build knick knacks through the bars of the living room windows, concoct potions from anything they could find, innovate, innovate, innovate.

Watching “See You Yesterday” was the equivalent of taking the B46 from Utica to my grandmother’s house, where I’ve always felt at home, like hanging with the kids on the block again, and a reminder to come inside because bad things happen when it’s dark out.

Or daylight.

Or walking home from school.

Or getting on the train.

Or talking to your friends on corners.

Or coming from a BBQ.

Despite the ongoing dispute about “See You Yesterday’s” cliffhanger ending, the film is a masterclass on representation. We stan a medium that supports our linguistic and cultural dexterity and plurality.

My company, Langston League, uses a framework to make sure that anything we create is culturally relevant and responsive. To be culturally responsive is to recognize the importance of including students' cultural references in all aspects of learning, enriching experiences and keeping your scholars engaged.

We must sustain this.

It’s important that the art we create embodies our stories and creates bridges to today. Culture is fluid and the media we internalize should aim to move with us.

No cap.

For real.

Real tings.

Si.

Vreman vre.

Seen.

I asked Tammy if she wanted me to recommend more movies, like “See You Yesterday.”

She sent a smiley and said, “Send dem’.”

I forward this message to Bristol, Lee, Bailey and all of the dope creators.

I replied to Tammy, too, “Soon come, bad gal.”


Erica Buddington is an author and educator based in Brooklyn, New York. Erica is the Founder and CEO of Langston League a multi-consultant firm that designs culturally relevant instructional material and professional development. You can find out more about her at www.ericabuddington.com. You can also follow her musings and her work on Twitter and Instagram.

How Culturally Responsive Teaching Showed Up In My Operating Room

EE4BF2A4-BD1D-4056-A9B4-60795976D964.jpg

The physician's assistant stood at the foot of my bed, her hands moving through the air like a spoken word poet mid-stanza, my mother and father on both sides caught up in her words.

She spoke with a slight British accent and a hint of Caribbean dialect. "Ms. Buddington, do you know what you're here for today?"

I did.

I, at least, had some idea...

For the last three months, I'd been researching my diagnosis of idiopathic intracranial hypertension- a rare neurological illness that predominately affects Women of child-bearing age, and mimics the symptoms of a brain tumor.

My eyes had suddenly become sensitive to the light turning into stars and flecks flashing across my vision, my head was always in pain on random days, and I experienced vertigo often.

After three examinations, an MRI, and a lumbar puncture, I found out that an excessive buildup of spinal fluid behind my eyes caused the symptoms.

That's a mouthful ain't it? It was for me too.

If it were not for the abundance of journalists covering the disproportionalities of people of color and medicine, I'm not sure I would have gone to the lengths that I did to decode the medical terminology used behind the constant rotation of hospital curtains. Doctors seemed fascinated with me, discovering that my condition not quite idiopathic and every professional had a question for me considering only 100,000 Americans currently live with IIH.

They wanted to understand the next steps the qualified medical professional was going to take, without sounding ignorant: What other medicine does he have you taking? Well, why would he choose that one? Oh, you're having an angiogram? Why?

I responded as best as I could, but honestly...I knew very little. I was horrified that they weren't as knowledgeable either.

I turned to Google, filled with terrifying medical journals, forums, and vague articles. I called friends in the medical field that had heard of my disorder but have rarely come into contact with anyone who was suffering from it. I frantically searched for Facebook groups that were sometimes reassuring, witnessing people asking the same questions that I had--knowing that I wasn't alone.

However, it still wasn't clear. None of my degrees, my ability to analyze text or multiple talents could help me decipher what was happening me.

Here is what I knew: Something was wrong with my brain, my vision was getting worse, and if I didn't rectify it I would go blind.

I said this to the physician’s assistant, who'd be in the room for my invasive procedure, and she launched into her cadence. I immediately recognized her stance; it was one I'd come into contact with at the Nuyorican Poets Cafe, in ciphers of my youth, and from myself while standing in front of my students--the blackboard a stage.

She explained that my brain was like a tree, "You could see the front and the back of it, you could look at the branches that extend from it, but you can't see the inside. We need to make our way into those branches, to view them internally. You've already had an MRI, which is like a 1950's television to a neurologist, but an angiogram is your brain in HD."

She went on to explain the process in figurative language, and for the first time in our three months of hospital visits, my parents and I understood everything clearly. It was the first time, in the alternating list of doctors with information that felt like crashing waves, that we felt comfortable, in the loop, and accepting of all that was to come.

Before she left to join the others waiting in the operating room, my dad asked her, "Are you Caribbean?"

The question was my father's way of gauging his ability to spot his brethren from the islands.

She smiled, "My family is Guyanese. I went to school in London and America."

She told us about family gatherings in her native island and connected it to the presence of my support system, she asked me about what I did for a living and where my family hailed from and used my interest as a lens. She was sewing what she learned immediately, constructing curriculum from things I identified with and she also assured us that she would answer any question that I had until it was time for me to go under. She smiled as she left and her warmth stayed behind.

Culturally responsive education and the liberal arts showed up in my operating room, despite years of being at schools where a one-size-fits-all curriculum is mandated. It made it's way to my the ears of my worried parents, despite being told that math and analytical/efferent reading were of the utmost importance, despite watching electives thrown out of the window months before the state test, and despite creative writing and fiction reading becoming one-off, supplemental initiatives.

Weeks ago, I came across @Oga_DoctorBlue's Twitter thread and became emotional. He said that black doctors are important.

He went on to show an example of codeswitching in the medical field and how it gave a patient comfort and understanding. I'd read years ago that the cognitive development of any child was dependent on the way in which the brain interpreted the environment.

Zaretta Hammond, a culturally responsive expert, says that when the brain gets information that it's not socially, emotionally, or intellectually safe, it sends distress signals to the body. An unwelcoming environment alone can cause anxiety. Hammond states that when working with scholars from marginalized communities, "we have to understand that their safety-threat detection system is already cued to be on alert for social and psychological threats based on past experience."

This notion is not only true for young scholars, but it is true for many PoC. It's true for me.

The physician's assistant that stood by my bedside was culturally responsive. It's a trait that's taught through ritual, reflection, empathy, discussion, mindset shift and so much more. This vital trait isn't one found on a bulletin board of pillars, a thematic menu for Hispanic Heritage month, or the University names we slap on to the homeroom doors.

It's a trait that is honed, only through intentional actions implemented with fidelity: It's taking the first-day surveys out of the drawers and using them to design an experience that genuinely correlates with your scholar's interests. It's bringing parents into the fold and using scholar traditions and artifacts to create the room and the instructional material. It's starting each lesson with a quote or a lens. It's allowing students to engage in debates and real conversation, without equating a little noise to chaos. It's using similes, metaphors, and anecdotes to engage scholars. It's getting them to understand that their own lives and the heart of the curriculum aren't that far apart.

It's a 30-year-old brown woman, who's told that she has a neurological disorder--surrounded by a sea of doctors that are not just fascinated with her rare illness.

Instead of only speaking in technical terminology, they go above and beyond bedside manner to assure that she understands all aspects of her diagnosis and future treatments.

It's an academic institution understanding that an emphasis on STEM and its technical language is equally as important as writing, language arts, love, and its synergies. We cannot afford to ignore the necessity of amalgamation. Lives are at stake, and I don't just mean figuratively. We can do this the right way or in the words of my scholars when I give them varied ways to express their understanding of the content: We can do both.

FICTION: Soon Come: Season 1, Episode 1

SOON COME.png

There was broken glass in my feet that night.

It’s the first time it’s happened since we started the tradition but I pulled it out of my sole and kept walking.

Blood and all.

My friends and I were headed to J’ouvert. We were in the shirts and jeans we’d shredded for effect, pounding the cement, hoping to make it right on time so we didn’t miss a thing.

J’ouvert is a celebration derived from colonizer carnival. When the enslaved weren’t allowed to celebrate they created their own commemoration. It’s street theatre, masquerade, steel pan sounds, and culture. It begins in the wee hours of the morning, in Brooklyn, and ends just before the West Indian Day Parade begins. The streets and masqueraders are covered in mud, oils, powder, and anything that is a metaphor for the toil of our people.

My grandmother, the most superstitious elder in our family, unknowingly filled me with traditions. I cringe when a months-old child’s hair is cut. I still rub overproof rum on my neck when I have a cold, alongside Vicks. I mix cod-liver oil and honey each morning. Some of Mumma’s remedies are tried and true but others are rooted in our history.

I can still smell the Wray & Nephew emanating from my chest on the nights that I didn’t have a cold and her voice, laying next to me, muffled by a pillow, “No duppy in dis’ house.”

During grandpa’s funeral, in Trelawny, Jamaica, the gravediggers refused to lay him to rest until they received rum. The smell always brought to mind their song, “We nah work til’ we get some rum. We nah work...”

Mumma’s personal belief was that it was disrespectful to the dead to wear your shoes on their graves. When we went to visit grandpa, she’d remove them before walking down his row. I did the same every time we came close to the area where Weeksville used to be, on Eastern Parkway. In a few blocks, we’d be greeted by people dressed as ghouls, percussionists, devils, dancers, and more. They were satire and truth, an exemplification of our pain, and a reminder that we had risen from the darkness.

It was ironic that the morning parade took this route. It was once a freed town’s cemetery. Mumma’s mother said they had big plans for Brooklyn long before gentrification started. The cemetery was sold and the remains that didn’t have headstones were thrown into the city dump. The contractors refused to wait, to bury the dead with dignity.

Every time we walked past Buffalo and Rochester Avenue, an animal sacred to indigenous people alongside medieval roots synonymous with slaughter, I took my shoes off. We were still walking on the dead.

Blood and all.

At first, I thought my date was hanging on to my every word. When I looked up from spinning my tale, I realized that he was horrified. The dimly lit cafe buzzed around us, patrons typing away at their screenplays and articles, others coming in for a drink to go, and some talking the night away—like us.

August in Brooklyn was full throttle. We were getting ready to spread our culture along the parkway, smoke grills filling the sky with authenticity, beads, and flags ready to go. Elders were pushing carts back and forth, pressing fruit for ripeness, dipping their hands into saltfish buckets, and watching all of the youth as if they were their own. The youth was still blasting firecrackers, kicking and throwing balls through nets and against courts, and filling the streets with laughter.

These were the parts of Brooklyn summer that were recognizable.

We were in one of those spots that you swear wasn’t there a second ago. They start with scaffolding, strip away all the identity of what was, and add lights, mason jars, and industrial stools. I would’ve never chosen a place like this for a date.

He spoke after a minute of silence, “Uh...that’s a lot to share on the first date.”

“You asked what the West Indian Day Parade was and what it meant to me.”

“I did. I’m from Kansas and we don’t have something like that in my town. I was just kind of curious. I was so grateful to find an apartment in this area, one that’s so close to these cute little spots and I can still get some jerk chicken down the block.”

He laughed. I guess this was the part where I was supposed to laugh too.

I didn’t.

He continued, “I’ve been here three months but my new job has me tied up all the time. I never have time to see Brooklyn. You’ve got to show me all the good things. I heard Williamsburg is dope and I really would like to walk the Brooklyn Bridge.”

I wanted to scoff at him but I maintained my composure.

He wanted me to show him my beloved Brooklyn, but he wanted to see all the parts that’d washed away the notion that we were ever here.

It was these moments that reminded me that privilege existed outside of the confines of race. The last reminder was walking down the block with a colleague, that was also from out of town, that pointed at a new condo, erected after eradicating historical brownstones. It defied the aesthetic of the block, an eyesore.

She pointed at it and said, “I need to get into an apartment building like this. All these other buildings just don’t feel like Brooklyn to me.”

The feel of Brooklyn, as interpreted by some 20-somethings that didn’t grow up here, is the viral videos of food trucks, new studio apartment gatherings, and more whitewash. This is what they perceived Brooklyn to be.

I felt like I was living in an alternate reality.

“So...are you going to show me Brooklyn?”

I smiled at Derrick, or whatever his name was, and nodded, “Sure.”

I checked my phone for the time and insisted that I had to go and see my grandmother. He was taken aback despite my “horror” tales from earlier, “Oh. Will I get to see you sometime this week?”

I smiled as I packed my things into my bag and picked up my trash, “Sure. I’ll call you.”

As I made my way through the evolving Crown Heights block to Utica Avenue, listening to pan sounds coming from someone’s camp, I realized that I only half-lied to him. I lived in Bedstuy and Mumma lived in East Flatbush. I was already halfway there; I might as well stop by.

Mumma’s house was on a block that I thought would never change. When we left Crown Heights, pushing through the buildings that were and weren’t ours, we drove into the heart of Brooklyn—the streets and stores lined with food, beautifully broken English, and everything I craved.

The B46 continued up Utica Avenue and college women with NYU tote bags got off beyond Church Ave.

I was wrong.

Mumma’s house was on a block that just might change.

Mumma’s stoop was filled with flowers, every breed that could be found at the local Korean store, and the backyard was filled with vegetables and herbs. I could hear Mumma’s blender through the kitchen window as I walked up the driveway.

It was an unspoken rule: The front door was for guests.

I wasn’t really a guest. The front door led into her always perfect living room, plastic on the sofas, and figurines galore. The side door was the entrance to the kitchen, filled with smells that I could only find there and back in Jamaica.

I knocked three times when Jaylen put his face to the glass of the door, from the other side.

“Open the door, boi!”

My little cousin laughed, “What did you bring me?”

“A spanking, if you don’t open this door.”

He opened the door smiling his big-tooth smile, “You don’t believe in spanking children. I’ve read your Facebook.”

“Oh yeah?! What do you know about Facebook?,” I tickled him and closed the door behind us.

Jaylen was 11. He was the son of my Uncle Dash and Auntie Willie. They had three kids and they all lived here with Mumma. Actually, Mumma lived with them. They made sure she got around Brooklyn for church, events, and friendly visits, at the age of ninety-five. It seemed nothing was going to slow her down.

Coming to Mumma’s house was always a family reunion.

Jaylen ran back into the living room, bony legs flailing around the corner, to play his video games.

Mumma was in her zone. She wore her colorful robe, the one she’d been wearing all our lives, and she was peeling ginger and making ginger beer all at once.

“Mumma! Who made an order?”

“You don’t have manners, girl. Good evening.”

I hugged her, “Good evening, Mumma.”

She continued to blend and peel, “Brother Marcus asked me to mek some Irish Moss and Ginger Beer for his church function tomorrow.”

“Oh okay, businesswoman! Is he paying you?”

“Gwan and mind your business.”

I laughed. This meant she was making money.

I admired her. Shthree didn’t look a day over 70, she sewed outfits, blended juices, and catered for the Caribbean community. Everyone was always telling me how lucky I was and that I should cherish her.

I sat down on a stool nearby, enamored with what she was doing. I still didn’t know how to make ginger beer.

“Sadie, what are you doing here? Don’t you have work in the morning?”

My grandmother still couldn’t grasp the concept that I was an entrepreneur. I started work when I wanted and ended work when I wanted.

“Yes Mumma, but I had a date tonight.”

The blender stopped suddenly, “Wid who?”

“A man.”

“Does this man av’ a name?”

“It doesn’t matter what his name is because I’m not going to see him again.”

“Good.”

“Good? Mumma, you’re not concerned? I’m 30 and I’m still single.”

“So what. If you want a baby, any man will give you that, but don’t expect love. This family doesn’t get love from men.”

I sighed.

She was right. My father left my mother when I was 10 years old. My grandmother’s husband was an abusive alcoholic that she fled from. My great grandmother’s husband didn’t make it past 26 years old. We were unlucky in love.

“Just because you weren’t all lucky with...”

She cut me off, “Luck! This has nothing to do with luck!”

Mumma grabbed her cane and made her way to the dining room. She was on a mission. She opened the cabinets under the china closet, where she kept all her prized ceramics and glasses and pulled out her favorite photo album. It was sky blue with photos pouring from its edges and it’d seen many countries.

She flipped through and landed on a page with pictures of her childhood home. Three of the photos were of the house, the trees and the boats on Jamaica’s Barbican seaside but the last picture was of her. She was about 41, with long straightened jet black hair, that flew in the wind, a floral 1960’s style dress, and a leather suitcase in her hand.

She was on her way to back to the Brooklyn that her mother left behind.

Mumma’s hair was cut into a short gray afro now, that dress was still in the back of her closet, and all the things she believed then...she still believed now.

She pointed to a tree in the picture, “You see this tree in the yard?”

“Yes.”

I knew the story, I’d heard it a million times, but allowing Mumma to tell it again seemed to soothe her.

“This woman, named Ms. Tee, was furious with my mother. They were sharing the same man. My mother didn’t know this, but Ms. Tee did. The whole parish told us that she buried something deep in the roots of that tree. We used to dig there as pickney but couldn’t find anything. That same year my father died. We been bad with love and men since then. We cursed child.”

I stared at the picture with Mumma in it. Although it was black and white, I could see the swaying of the vines and trees, the movement of the water, and the hurt in her still eyes.

Mumma slammed the photo album shut, “You find yourself. Forget love. Love shows up with skin like soil, wit like wire, smooth talk, and sticky hands. Who wan’ dat?”


I sat in front of Mumma’s waiting on my carpool.

I didn’t want to take the long bus ride back but I also didn’t feel like paying an arm and a leg to get home. A strong gust blew through the front yard, one that indicated rain was coming, and all I could think of was Mumma’s story.

We were not cursed.

We were unlucky in love.

I was going to break that cycle.

Why should only the men in our family get to give and receive love?

The carpool finally arrived. I walked down the steps and noticed the black tinted car was not in front of the right house—typical. I walked half a block, opened the back door, and noticed there were two people already sitting in the back, “Oh, I’m sorry.”

I closed the door and got into the front instead. I sighed due to the lack of leg room and the driver’s insistence that I place his personal book bag at my feet. We headed towards Utica Avenue when a woman in the back started a conversation with whoever was sitting next to her.

“I love that book. It’s phenomenal. I think it’s so sexy when guys read it.”

The guy replied, “Oh really? My friend insisted that I take it and I didn’t want to hurt his feelings.”

I didn’t turn around but I could tell the guy was a brotha. I’d already seen the woman when I opened the door accidentally.

“You’re going to love it! 48 Laws of Power is a masterpiece. Robert Greene...”

He cut her off, “I know what the book is about. I’m just not into books like this. The rehashing of history to fit an agenda sounds like great marketing, not great reading.”

I smirked. I felt the same way about certain books: The Alchemist, 48 Laws of Power, Art of War, The Art of Seduction, etc.  I had a name for men that called them their favorite books.

I won’t share it.

“Oh, okay. Well, what do you do?”

“I’m in social work.”

“That’s beautiful. My family had foster kids. I know how difficult they can be.”

Homeboy and I snorted at the exact same time. Homegirl didn’t catch it.

“I’m visiting from California. Brooklyn is my second home because my bestie moved here five years ago. I’m back and forth. I grew up in San Francisco but I live in Los Angeles now. I own and run a dispensary. I like to call myself a spiritualist. I’ll get your spirit right.”

He laughed, “Is that right?”

“Yeah, I also employ some young folks from the community. Support the youth, right?”

“I’m curious...”

His voice was sultry. I wanted to focus on the Hot97 tunes coming through the radio but the words leaving his mouth called for my attention. I kept listening.

“How many of those young folks have fathers, uncles, and cousins, locked up, for doing the exact same thing that you are?”

The woman sighed. I heard her unlock her phone, “I need to answer this text. It’s business…”

She was quiet for the rest of the ride.

A few blocks later, we dropped her off.

When the car drove towards the next destination, I said, “Good one, bro.”

He said, “A brotha just wanted to listen to his podcast in peace.”

“I feel that. I’m sorry. I’ll let you get back to it.”

I still hadn’t looked back at him. I thought it would be rude to turn around and stare. I kept my eyes on the road. I realized that he had a southern accent.

“It’s cool. You from around here?”

Oh no. Here we go with another show-me-Brooklyn guy.

“I am. I grew up here. I live in Bedstuy, now. You?”

“I’m from Hampton Roads. All seven cities, really. I was a military kid, moving everywhere until the Navy took my father overseas and he never returned.”

“I know what that’s like.”

“A lot of us do, but we’re gonna be different right?”

“Right.”

I heard his podcast turn back on, through his headphones, and I realized that our conversation was over. The cab was about five minutes from home and I was excited to plop down on my sofa and watch Netflix. We pulled up to Malcolm X and Gates and I got out. I thanked the driver and made a mental note to give him 4 stars—due to his book bag. The gentleman in the back got out of the car too.

He grabbed his things from the car as I closed my door and when he lifted his head I saw that he was brown like soil—fine, as all hell.

Jesus.

He broke my trance, “You live around here, too?”

I stepped on the curb as the cab drove away, “Yeah, a block away. They’re not doing this to-your-door thing with pools anymore.”

“I know, but I like the walk. I love this area. Well, I did before it got crazy with all these changes. I guess since I’ve only been here for 5 years, I’m a gentrifier too huh?”

“They wouldn’t have changed Brooklyn for an influx of you.”

He smiled and his entire face lit the dark corner, “You’re right. It was good meeting you...uh?”

“Sadie.”

“Nice name. Nice to meet you, Sadie. I’m Dru.”

He extended his hand, in the sweaty Bedstuy summer night, and I grasped it.

Sticky.

Everything inside of me was boiling. 

Blood and all.